How to use design tools in fragile areas of society to create safe spaces in which a welcoming concept exists: we talk about it with the architect and researcher Francesca Gotti

Designing with kindness is the daily practice of Francesca Gotti, an architect expert in spatial self-production and shared management practices.

His speech on March 15th at the public program designed to present the Fuori Salone 2024 event We will design by Base Milano is the Urban device for Abitare via Padova workshop. A very concrete proposal to demonstrate how design tools find fertile ground in fragile areas of society, through the creation of safe spaces in which there is a kind thought of welcome and relationship between individuals.

What happens during a workshop like Urban device for Abitare via Padova?

Francesca Gotti: “The workshop from Base Milano was born from the experience of a winter school at the former Sant'Agata prison in Bergamo: ten intensive days of coexistence and self-construction to translate and decline the themes of conviviality and co-management. The curator Erica Petrillo invited me to the Public Program of Base Milano for We will design 2024, which this year is entitled The convivial laboratory.

Read also: Erica Petrillo's houses

The leader of this pragmatic experiment is the association Abitare via Padova. The objective is to work together with the associations and collectives already active in the area to define an object, a shared device capable of supporting practices and gestures of relationships and mutual help within a collective space, starting from historical and contemporary examples" .

Does designing mean giving up authorship in favor of a more gentle idea of space?

Francesca Gotti: “It is important to ask ourselves what it concretely means to make space for everyone, to build places where activism has a concrete impact on the lives of many. In these contexts, listening and the practice of mutual help lead to the creation of truly collective spaces and objects, which effectively exclude authorship. It is not a punitive position, but a rather spontaneous condition of renouncing individual production."

What are the design references in the construction of collective urban spaces?

Francesca Gotti: “The work ofUgo La Pietraon devices for the reappropriation of urban spaces is very interesting. It starts from common objects and tools that characterize the city to relaunch the possibility of non-formal urban design, constantly listening to fragility.

Also worth mentioning is the research work of the philosopher Silvia Federici and her book Caliban and the witch (Feltrinelli, 2004). As well as Céline Condorelli and her Support Structures (Sternberg Press, 2009).

Another fundamental point is the work of the numerous collectives, almost exclusively under 35, who work daily in marginal territories. In Milan there are many references for self-construction: Hyperden, Zattere, Forme tentative, Curaa, Camposaz. It is a dimension rich in field experiences that creates meeting points between institutional welfare and architectural design".

Let's talk about activism. Does it always have to do with the political dimension?

Francesca Gotti: “There is a preconceived idea that does not take into account the historical evolution of political activism. In reality the driving force is always personal, as well as political. We are very far from the methods and experiences of the social centers of the 1980s and 1990s.

It is a transversal movement that goes beyond the concept of individual survival instinct to instead embrace the evolutionary idea of mutuality, of collaboration. Helping and asking for help are relational skills that concern not only human beings, but all of nature."

Human frailty is therefore a precious heritage. Who are the fragile subjects today?

Francesca Gotti: “It is a category that concerns much broader social spheres than you might think. People in economic, psychological or family difficulty are fragile. But students, recent graduates and the large number of people living on the poverty line are also fragile.

The theme of fragility in the urban context is very extensive and generates not only economic but relational marginalization. So the collectives organize and create spaces for networking, protected and safe areas at a time when there is an extreme need for them."

The issue of institutional welfare is fundamental. Is there a policy of kindness?

Francesca Gotti: “There are two types of politics in this context. A fundamental one that works on the territory. The smaller the urban scale, the easier it is for a dimension of kindness and listening to be created.

Interventions on collective assets are always based on the relationship with the councilor and the municipal technician because an association that wants to open a social space must sign a collaboration agreement based also on trust and human relationships.

Then there is politics in its more ideological dimension which, in Italy, is historically and culturally distant from the idea of kindness. It is not only the responsibility of the various governments, but also of a general mistrust towards the institutions."

Aside from ideology, what is the driving force behind kindness in a collective context?

Francesca Gotti: “It's a question I often ask myself. In my doctoral research I have met architects who dedicate themselves with great expenditure of time and personal energy to frankly difficult work, with optimism. The Stalker collective by Francesco Careri in Rome, Recetas Urbanas in Madrid, Ateliermob in Lisbon.

Professionals who could have had an easier and more comfortable professional career and who instead chose the path of civil commitment.

My personal experience is that there is a need to be together, a need to share across any political or confessional context in opposition to the historical narrative that wants to see us as individuals trying to survive even at the expense of others. The survival instinct is centered on sharing, mutualism and mutual help”